Top 10 UFC Events: #1, Brock Lesnar and UFC 100 set pay-per-view (PPV) buyrate record

MMAmania.com is celebrating two decades of Octagon action with a week-long countdown of the most memorable UFC events to date. Coming in at No. 1 is UFC 100, the biggest blockbuster pay-per-view the world's leading mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion has ever put on.

Imagine you were once on the brink of financial ruin.

Each morning you woke up suffocating under an increasing mountain of debt, your cash on hand was barely enough to afford a nightly repast of 39-cent dehydrated ramen noodles, and all of your savings had been sunk into a foolhardy start-up that earned you no returns other than the mockery of your more financially stable peers.

Then imagine one day, in a miracle nobody but yourself saw coming, your financial ship came in. Soon you were earning money hand over fist -- enough to pay off all your old debts many times over and to ensure you would live in luxury for the rest of your natural life.

Wouldn't you feel like throwing the mother of all parties to celebrate your new found good fortune, once enough time had past for you to determine it was here to stay?

That celebration is exactly what UFC 100 represented to Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), which in 2004 was precariously close to owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta pulling the plug on the money-bleeding venture their friend Dana White talked them into buying.

Just five years later, the once all but blacklisted promotion had transformed into a massively successful, increasingly mainstream sports juggernaut.

The story of how they got there has since become the stuff of combat sports legend: the breakthrough first season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) that aired directly after the massively popular WWE Raw on Spike TV in early 2005, the Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar classic that showed the unwashed masses how exciting this mixed martial arts (MMA) stuff could be, one broken pay per view (PPV) record after another, and a bevy of top fighters who became legitimate mainstream stars as UFC's popularity increased.

Circa 2009 there were no two bigger superstars on the UFC roster than welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and heavyweight kingpin Brock Lesnar.

For fight fans, St. Pierre and Lesnar represented diametrically opposed ideals. The ever-smiling "GSP" was the quintessential babyface who paid lip service to the martial code and displayed peerless skill in the Octagon. Lesnar was the disrespectful heel who rode into town with a chip on his shoulder and, seemingly by dint of his very existence, spit in the face of all that was holy to a legion of purists who weren't aware of the debt the MMA industry owes to pro wrestling.

Although Lesnar was viewed as the man in the black hat and St-Pierre as the knight in a shining white Under Armour compression shirt, the common denominator between both men is they were second to none at generating long green for UFC.

Which is why, if UFC wanted to flex its promotional muscle in order to show off the massive gains it had made since debuting on basic cable television just four years earlier, there were no two bigger guns it could display than the charismatic French Canadian and the NCAA Division I champion turned wrasslin' superstar turned legit baddest man on the planet from the backwoods of Minnesota.

Thus UFC 100 found itself with a blockbuster main event featuring a rematch between Lesnar and challenger Frank Mir for the heavyweight strap, as well as a welterweight title fight pitting St-Pierre against Thiago Alves in the co-main event. The cherry on top of the sundae?

A grudge match between TUF season nine coaches Dan Henderson and Michael Bisping.

The results were predictably spectacular. Although there have been UFC events with much bigger live gates than the $5,128,490 UFC 100 generated at the Mandalay Bay on July 11, 2009 -- most notably the $12,075,000 the company did for its debut in Toronto's Rogers Centre for UFC 129 -- the star-studded centennial event didn't just break all previous records on PPV -- it absolutely smashed them.

UFC 100 did a staggering 1,600,000 buys on PPV, which put it 58-percent above the previous record for PPV buys set by UFC 91, which did around 1,010,000 for a card headlined by Lesnar taking on legend Randy Couture for the UFC heavyweight title. To this day its still the high water mark for the company on PPV, coming up 51-percent above the number two ranked show, the Lesnar/Shane Carwin headlined UFC 116, which did in the neighborhood of 1,060,000 buys.

As for the action on the card, it was mostly good to great. On the undercard an 8-0 up and comer named Jon Jones defeated Jake O'Brien with a second round guillotine choke in just his second fight with UFC.

Then in an oddly poetic nod to the company's early days that served as the undercard main event, grizzled veteran Mark Coleman defeated TUF 1 star Stephan Bonnar via unanimous decision in what was considered a huge upset at the time.

The PPV portion of the card kicked off with former K1 HERO'S Light Heavyweight Champion Yoshihiro Akiyama making his UFC debut and defeating Alan Belcher by way of a controversial split decision in an exciting all-action fight.

Next up was Henderson versus Bisping, which memorably ended in the brash heel Bisping circling right into Henderson's wrecking ball of a right hand and getting laid out stiffer than an overly-starched Ben Sherman shirt. An unnecessary follow up blow from Henderson after the fact cast a bit of a pall on what was otherwise the in-ring highpoint of the show, but for fans in the arena and the million-plus watching at home, all that mattered was the tough-guy babyface had finally gotten his revenge on his loudmouthed antagonist from TUF.

Although many had pegged St-Pierre vs. Alves as an early pick for "fight of the night" heading into the event, in practice it was merely a perfectly acceptable, if rather repetitive, affair that saw St-Pierre repeatedly take Alves down and control him on the ground en route to a decision victory.

Whatever the St-Pierre's tactical dominance of Alves may have lacked in fireworks, Lesnar and Mir more than made up for in the main event. There was major bad blood heading into this one. The man with the hilariously phallic knife tattoo on his chest was visibly seething with anger whenever he talked about Mir -- who had defeated him by kneebar submission at UFC 81. As for the cocky Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ) ace? He gave a series of interviews where he was utterly dismissive of Lesnar's chances and spoke of him in the most condescending terms possible.

Then on fight night Lesnar proceeded to, in the parlance of former WWE announcer Jim Ross, stomp a mud hole in Mir and walk it dry. Mir looked like a dishrag armed, pencil-neck geek as Lesnar ragdolled him around the cage before pounding him with a series of absolutely murderous ground-and-pound strikes in the second round.

And that's when things got really good.

After the fight Lesnar got on the mic, and much to the chagrin of the uptight MMA fans worried about what was "good for the sport," told UFC color commentator Joe Rogan that he he planned to celebrate the triumph of "pulling the horseshoe out of Mir's ass and beating him over the head with it" by getting on top of his Playboy-centerfold wife and drinking a Coors Light, because UFC blue chip sponsor Bud Light didn't pay him.

That's how you give a post-fight interview that fans remember, not a bunch of nonsense about how all the trash talk was just to help sell the fight. It's a lesson many current fighters would do well to learn from.

Unfortunately the Lesnar era would come to an end shorty after his victory over Mir, thanks to his well-publicized battle with the gastrointestinal disorder diverticulitis. In his return fight from his first struggle with the disease, he was lucky to get by Shane Carwin at UFC 116, and a visibly flat Lesnar lost his title to Cain Velasquez at UFC 121 (who a prime Lesnar probably wouldn't have beaten anyway).

Although UFC's PPV numbers eventually declined slightly after cresting at UFC 100, the company still remains hugely profitable on PPV, has expanded its business into a number of international markets, and a landmark deal with FOX also brings in somewhere around a million dollars a year in rights fees.

Not bad for a promotion that was once on the verge of shutting its doors.

UFC 100 served as the perfect encapsulation of a time when the company was firing on all cylinders and could do no wrong. It was an appropriately over-the-top celebration for an organization that had come back from the financial abyss to emerge an ultra-successful promotional powerhouse and the worldwide face of MMA.

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